Winter break for most students means a time for relaxation after a grueling four months of school, and spending time with friends and family.
But for basketball players, it’s tournament time. Most teams gain invaluable experience and exposure between Christmas and New Years taking on competition they likely won’t face the rest of the rest of the regular season. Many teams stay around the Charlotte area, while others make overnight stays a few hours away. And for fans, it gives them the chance to see some of the top players in their states – and even around the country – in a span of just a few days.
As he prepares for three games in three days, North Lincoln coach Dennis Frye hopes to bring home some hardware from the event in Lincolnton.
“Playing back-back is draining,” he said. “It’s a tourney we can win if we’re playing well.”
Last year, the delayed schedule meant the season began after the time for these mid-year hoops celebrations. But like many traditions in 2021, holiday tournaments are back.
Iredell County tournament
This is far from the traditional Hall of Fame Classic slate, as a few teams from outside the county will mix up with the squads from the likes of Mooresville and South Iredell this year. Lake Norman High and Pine Lake Prep are competing elsewhere, meaning Bessemer City, Rocky River and Seaforth out of Chatham County will join the locals at West Iredell High School.
With the shake-up in entries, a true Iredell champion will no longer be crowned. In 2019, it was 3A Statesville defeating then-1A Pine Lake Prep for the boys crowns, and 4A Lake Norman taking down 1A Langtree Charter.
East Lincoln Winter Jam
The tradition of holiday hoops in Denver also returns. The Winter Jam attracts some of the top programs in Mecklenburg County to take on the usually stout Mustang programs. The Lake Norman High boys and both Hough boys and girls teams also are participating.
East boys coach Jon Hancock is looking forward to the event’s resurrection.
“Last year was the first time it hasn’t been done in 30 or so years,” he said. “Our kids really look forward to it, and we bring in good teams to play. Usually you see some good teams so we get ready for the conference race. It was a bizarre season last year.”
From LKN to the Triangle
The North Meck boys heading to the prestigious – yet tweaked – John Wall Invitational represents just a portion of local teams traveling to the Triangle area for competition.
The Vikings will take on other state perennial powers in Raleigh. Mooresville’s boys will get a showcase game Dec. 23 as part of the event. When it was held at Broughton High School’s Holiday Gym, the bleachers became a who’s who of college coaches and players, and it’s where many ACC fans get to check out their schools’ recruits for the first time.
North has played in Bristol, Tenn., in recent years, but senior guard Jordan Crawford respects the kind of stage he and his teammates will have this year.
“It’s where a lot of people get seen,” Crawford said. “That’s what we want it to do, get seen, to get exposure to make it to the next level.”
Just 30 minutes away, the North Meck girls and Hopewell boys will compete in the Champion Durham Classic. The first-year event will take place at N.C. Central University with mostly schools from Durham and Wake counties.
Jennifer Baker, the Lady Vikings’ coach, hopes to see more competition among Mecklenburg County schools in the future. The school hosts the Leroy Holden Classic at Thanksgiving, but usually just has teams north of Interstate 85.
“We would love to see a lot more of the Charlotte conferences inter-mixing a little bit more,” she said. “Maybe there could be an all-city Christmas tournament so we don’t have to travel.”
Here are some of the first-round schedules:
Iredell County tournament
West Iredell High School, Dec. 28-30
10 a.m. – Langtree Charter vs. West Iredell (girls)
11:30 a.m. – Bessemer City vs. West Iredell (boys)
1 p.m. – Bessemer City vs. Mooresville (girls)
2:30 p.m. – Mooresville vs. Seaforth (boys)
4 p.m. – North Iredell vs. Rocky River (girls)
5:30 p.m. – Langtree Charter vs. Rocky River (boys)
7 p.m. – Seaforth vs. South Iredell (girls)
8:30 p.m. – North Iredell vs. South Iredell (boys)
East Lincoln Winter Jam
East Lincoln High School, Dec. 28-30
1 p.m. – Cox Mill vs. Central Cabarrus (girls)
2:30 p.m. – Mallard Creek vs. West Cabarrus (girls)
1 p.m. – Lake Norman vs. Ashbrook (boys)
2:30 p.m. – Lake Norman Charter vs. SouthLake Christian (boys)
4 p.m. – Lake Norman Charter vs. Jay M. Robinson (girls)
5:30 p.m. – Jay M. Robinson vs. Hough Huskies (boys)
7 p.m. – East Lincoln vs. Hough (girls)
8:30 p.m. – East Lincoln vs. Hunter Huss (boys)
John Wall Invitational (Devonte Graham Bracket-Boys)
Wake Tech & Word of God, Raleigh, Dec. 23, 27-30
2:30 p.m. – Farmville Central vs. Greenfield
4 p.m. – North Meck vs. Archbishop Spaulding (Md.)
7 p.m. – Broughton vs. Life Christian (Fla.)
7:30 p.m. – Millbrook vs. The Burlington School
Dec. 23, 1:30 p.m. – Mooresville vs. Leesville Road